Chris Bourque, who grew up in Amirault’s Hill and lives in Sydney, N.S., started playing Australian rules football in 2012 while he was living in Halifax.
YARMOUTH -- A former Yarmouth County resident is halfway around the world to play in a big Australian rules football tournament and he says he expects it will be the experience of a lifetime.
Chris Bourque, who lives in Cape Breton but who grew up in Amirault’s Hill, is a member of the Canadian men’s team taking part in the Australian Football International Cup. Held every three years, the tournament is scheduled to start Aug. 5 in Melbourne and will last a couple of weeks.
Bourque recalls discovering Australia’s brand of football while spending some time in that country in 2006.
“We went to some games and I didn’t really quite understand what I was watching, but I knew I liked it,” he said. “It’s quite a blend of different sports and skills and just really a kind of level of fitness and athleticism that you don’t see in other sports, so I was pretty intrigued by that.”
Bourque started playing Australian football in 2012 while living in Halifax. When he and his wife moved to Cape Breton, he started a club in Sydney. Bourque is a social worker in Sydney, where he has lived for four years.
In 2014, Bourque played for Canada’s development team – sort of a reserve squad – and last year he was invited to attend a selection camp where he earned a spot on Canada’s national men’s team, becoming the first from the Atlantic region to do so.
Australian rules football games have 36 players on the field at any given time – 18 per squad -- and the playing field can approach 200 metres in length, although there are no fixed dimensions.
One of the things he likes about the sport, Bourque said, is that there are positions for players of just about every shape and size. He also describes it as a “real team game” in which “everybody needs to be involved if you’re successful.”
Bourque’s main sport while growing up was hockey. He also played baseball. Later, while attending Mount Allison University, he played a little rugby.
At 34, Bourque is among the older members of the Canadian men’s team taking part in this year’s International Cup. The Canadian men placed fifth in the 2014 tournament, the best showing to date for Canada in the men’s tournament. Bourque’s teammates include quite a few players who took part in the 2014 event.
Papua New Guinea won the men’s tournament three years ago. (A team from Canada won the women’s tournament in 2014.)
Perhaps ironically, Australia – where Australian rules football is played professionally – is not represented in the men’s tournament, given the superior skill level of the host nation.
Meanwhile, Bourque notes that he’s not the only person from Yarmouth County involved in Canada’s Australian rules football program. Myles Amirault, 34, formerly of West Pubnico, now living in Halifax, played for Canada’s development team at a tournament in London, England, this past May. Bourque and Amirault are co-captains of the Nova Scotia provincial team.
As for this summer’s International Cup, Bourque notes that it’s a goal he’s been working towards for a number of years. He recognizes too the honour of representing Canada in a major event.
“I’m pretty mindful of that,” he said.
A few things about Australian rules football:
--Australian rules football, officially known as Australian football (also called footy), is a contact sport played between two teams of 18 players on an oval-shaped field, often a modified cricket ground.
--The main way to score points is by kicking the oval-shaped ball between two tall goal posts.
--During general play, players may position themselves anywhere on the field and use any part of their bodies to move the ball.
--There are rules on how the ball can be handled: for example, players running with the ball must intermittently bounce or touch it on the ground. Throwing the ball is not allowed and players must not get caught holding the ball.